AW Kautzer's Film Review Film

ArcLight Presents…Hitting the High Note Screening Series – Mary Poppins Returns + Q&A with Marc Shaiman


It’s Awards Season!  Adam attends a screening of Mary Poppins Returns with a Post-Screening Q&A with Composer and Lyricist Marc Shaiman for Arclight Presents Hitting the High Note Screening series

The Film

Sequels are just as much an Art as creating original content.  This is doubly true when the sequel you are creating is almost six decades later and is a beloved multi-generational childhood movie.  That was one of many roadblocks in front of Rob Marshall and Company when proceeding with a sequel to Mary Poppins.  Lighting in a bottle almost never strikes twice and it’s too early to tell but Mary Poppins Returns does its best to recapture said lighting. 

Set a generation later as Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) Banks now grown have their own set of problems.  Michael, now a widow (does Disney ever produce anything with duel living parents nowadays?), has three children of his own and a boatload of problems.  The bank is foreclosing on their childhood home in less than a week.  What is a family to do?  Well, if you’re in this universe… nothing because no sooner than all is lost, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) appears to not so much save the day but like Paddington bring a ray of light and hope to the family in the most unexpected of ways.

Marshall and his crew of Screenwriters and Musical Writers (David Magee, Marshall, John DeLuca, Marc Shaiman, and Scott Whittman) have done justice to not only the original film but the world that was created by PL Travers.  Everything is agreeable and straight down the middle for your enjoyment.  The songs, music and choreography of the entire film are designed, and successful, in recalling the original film’s wonderful score/songs by the Sherman Brothers.  There are standout moments but all feel… repeated from the original.  Even down to the mid-film animated sequence. 

Everything is done perfectly and beautifully.  Cinematographer Dion Bebe manages to create a film that is both visually a Candy Pop Confection and serious Musical with acrobatic movements that will delight any serious Movie Musical Fan.  Though visually the film is too perfect even around the edges to feel like a true companion to the original.  Unlike the work of cinematographer Edward Colman on the original, all of the shabby imperfection, which made the original such a delight, is not present here.

Mary Poppins Returns opts to respect the original rather than push beyond it for something greater.  Going with safer route one does get the feeling that Mary Poppins Returns is more akin to Star Wars The Force Awakens as it leans heavily on the original, even going as far as to mimic the originals storyline, almost beat for beat.  This wherein lies the problem of Mary Poppins Returns.  It is Perfect mimicry and no original ideas, though the film is a delight and will entertain all generations.

The Q&A

The 45-minue Q&A with Marc Shaiman was a wind of fresh air.  The Composer and Co-Songwriter of the film was in fine form as he recounted his involvement, his history with director Rob Marshall and being an general all-around wit.  Here are some of the highlights of the conversation with Hollywood Reporter’s music correspondent Byron Burton.

  • Shaiman began with discussing his 40 plus year relationship with Co-Songwriter Scott Whittman which culminated in getting the Job together on Hairspray.  Which they essentially had to audition for, e.g. creating four songs for the show (which became four of the more famous numbers from that film like Hello Baltimore).
  • Shaiman discussed how Marshall was originally met.  Marshall going to be the director of the Broadway production of Hairspray, only to find out a month before they were to go into Previews that he (Marshall) got a greenlight for Chicago.  Marshall left the project but both remained close friends.
  • In total Shaiman worked on the film for 3-years, and was intrinsically involved during the moment that Disney knew it was going to make the sequel.
  • The Screenwriter David Magee, Marshall, DeLuca, Whittman, and Shaiman broke the story of the sequel together over a three month period. 
  • The tuppens reveal was Whittman’s idea. 
  • He discussed how Marshall does not use a “click track” while recording the musical numbers to allow for a bit more spontaneity.
  • Shaiman recounted a story in which he called Mary Poppins the formative movie of his life and a few months before he was interviewed for the Job he found the exact version of the Mary Poppins soundtrack that he listened to as a child.  For his Instagram Shaiman had his assistant record him putting on the record, which he showed Marshall and producer John DeLuca, much to their delight.
  • They were able to record the overture at Abbey Road much to Shaiman’s delight.
  • Discussing his odds about winning the Best Song Category, Shaiman said, “ … they are going to shove that Oscar so far up Lady Gaga’s ass that when she smiles it’ll look like a filling. And I say that with love.” Which drew an uproarious laughter from the crowd, to which Shaiman said again, that it was out of a true love for her. 
  • Richard Sherman was not really involved other than to “oversee” during the scripting stage.
  • Upon meeting Meryl Streep, Shaiman was effusive of his praise of the legendary actress and her work ethic as she came in for 4-days of rehearsal.  Shaiman and Whittman were next door to her rehearsal space and heard her working non-stop.  On the third day Shaiman went over to thank her for the tireless work ethic.  To which she responded, “well, dear… fear is a great motivator”.

The Academy Awards is on this Sunday February 24th and Mary Poppins Returns is still playing in theaters 

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